Just recently, a process that provides mice a tan without the use of ultraviolet rays finally works on human skin samples. This initial phase in producing a cream or lotion could protect people with fair skin from skin cancer.

Is this too good to be true?

As mentioned in Cell Reports last June 13, a topical drug was used by a tanning laboratory on live human skin samples without the presence of the sun. Compared to self-tanning lotions that would dye a skin brown and offer minimal protection from the sun, this particular drug triggers the production of melanin that consumes ultraviolet radiation and reduces damage to your skin cells.

How is this possible?

In their study last 2006, the research team utilized a different drug called forskolin, which is a plant extract. They looked for mice that had similar pigment as humans who had fair skin and red hair. This specific population doesn’t tan because the protein on the surface of their skin cells doesn’t function – and it is the one responsible in producing melanin.

When the team applied forskolin on these animal subjects, their skin started producing the dark form of melanin. Once they exposed them to ultraviolet radiation, the mice who now had dark pigment experienced less sunburn, DNA damage and skin tumors compared to those that were untreated.

After this discovery, the scientists wanted to determine if they could apply this to human skin and if it would show the same results. However, the epidermis or the outermost layer of your skin is five times thicker than the mice tested. This simply means that forskolin couldn’t easily get in.

This was when the team tried another way to generate pigmentation by targeting a different enzyme. They discovered that the enzyme known as salt-inducible kinase prevented the production of melanin in mice. They also learned that animals who don’t have the gene for the enzyme grew darker fur – and this is exactly what they targeted to activate pigmentation.

They’ve been experimenting with different drugs to generate melanin, but they realized that if they did ever come up with one, people should not use it as an alternative to sunscreen. On the other hand, they could mix this drug with sunscreen to achieve desired results. For now, self-tanning people would have to wait until they have successfully discovered and tested the awaited drug.

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